To Clients, Jargon Zown Sly Kjib Erish



Clear communication enhances client engagement. That may be obvious, but many advisors persist (inadvertently, I’m sure) in speaking jargon with clients. I recently wrote about the need to at least make sense when creating communications for your practice. Even if your message, whether it be advice or marketing communications, is logical, it benefits you and the client only if it communicates an idea successfully. Shortly after that post someone sent me an old video of John Cleese playing the role of a neurologist explaining the brain, and it makes this point beautifully.


Sounds authoritative, right? Of course, you can also tell it is almost entirely gibberish. Is this how you sound to prospects and clients?

When you have provided advice for long enough, you forget what you know that most people don’t know. I’ve done it. Every so often I will talk to my wife about some investment issue I am working on. And she will interrupt me midsentence to let me know she doesn’t understand a thing I am saying. She’s smart – a member of Mensa even. She just hasn’t been doing it professionally for 25 years. I’m grateful she will provide me that kind of feedback because she will tell me what most clients probably won’t. People don’t want to admit that you are sailing over their heads. In fairness, there are times when she will talk about the intricacies of music, or performing, or the technicalities of double bass technique and I will feel that same way.

So how do you check and make sure that you are still communicating? Here are a couple ideas:

Be cognizant. Identify the issues you frequently discuss, and be deliberate about the language you use to describe the concepts and strategies. Write it down and look at it or record it and listen to yourself. Is it language your clients use? How can the explanation be improved?

Tell stories. People don’t remember facts. People remember stories about people. Whether they understand what you are saying or not, this is a more memorable way of making a point. It is also a great way to help make sure you are saying it in a way they can relate to.

Ask clients to reflect back what you have said in their own words. If it is important that they understand – like if you are making a recommendation to change strategy – this is one of the best ways to confirm that the message they heard is the same one you sent.

You are in a complex business but your client relationships will be enhanced if you can communicate your advice in a way that is not so complicated. Do your clients comprehend or do you sound like Cleese? After all, what we do can be technical but it ain’t brain surgery.


  1. Susan Weiner, CFAApril 22, 2013

    Good one, Steve! Did you catch yesterday's CBS Sunday Morning segment on Alan Alda teaching scientists to speak in plain English? There's a great quote from him on the show's website. "Why would you give money to somebody whose work you don't understand?"

  2. Stephen WershingApril 24, 2013

    I saw your tweet about it, and read about it. Great idea, and exactly the kind of thing I mean. Thanks for giving me a heads-up on it!


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